Replacing an older laptop's hard drive

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Father Tom Gillespie (a father, not a Father) seeks advice to help his son. He writes:

My son bought a PowerBook in 2005. It works fine except for a crashed disk drive. Our local Apple Store wanted more than $600 to recover the old data and replace the drive. If we are willing to skip the old data is there some way to get the computer to work with an external drive and not bother with replacing the busted hard drive?

That’s certainly one option. Let me run through them all.

First, let’s back up a step. Even if the drive is unbootable and can’t be restored to its previous working state, there’s a chance that you can still recover data from it, without paying Apple to do it for you. For this you need one of a couple of tools.

Prosoft Engineering’s $99 Data Rescue 3 makes no attempt to repair your drive. Its single mission is to get data off it. It comes in the form of a bootable DVD. You’ll also need a secondary drive to recover the data to. If you like, you can install a compatible version of OS X on that secondary drive, boot the PowerBook from it, install Data Rescue on the drive, and run it from there. Alsoft’s $100 DiskWarrior is another option. Although DiskWarrior will do its best to repair the drive, it can also recover files. Every Mac user I know who’s serious about troubleshooting has a copy of each of these applications.

Regardless of whether you can recover the old data, you need a new hard drive for that PowerBook. Unless that laptop never moves I’d think about installing a new internal drive. Small as they make external drives now, it’s a pain to have to lug one around with your laptop when you move about. (Laptops were designed to be portable, after all.)

Replacing the hard drive doesn’t mean a trip to the Apple Store. Even if you’re only modestly handy you can do this yourself. Much as I’d love to detail how, let me instead refer you to the experts at iFixIt. On this invaluable Website you’ll find all the instructions you need for replacing the hard drive in a PowerBook G4. In addition to the instructions you’ll require a 1.5mm hex screwdriver, a Phillips #00 screwdriver, a coin (the denomination is completely up to you, but I believe doubloons are too thick), and a replacement 2.5-inch ATA hard drive, which you can find for under $100 (iFixIt sells a couple of different models). I’ve successfully replaced a hard drive in one of these PowerBooks and found it reasonably easy to do.

As with any repair along these lines, if you believe it’s beyond your abilities, find a handier friend who can do it for you. If your friends are even clumsier than you, purchasing an external FireWire hard drive remains an option.

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